When I was in Paris a few years back, do you know what was on top of my list of things to see? Was it the Mona Lisa, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe or Moulin Rouge? No, it wasn’t even the Eiffel Tower. It was the underground ossuaries that hold the remains of more than six million people. The Catacombs!
It’s a little strange I know but these underground tunnels that lie beneath Paris have always fascinated me! The ossuaries themselves only make up a small section of the underground. However, the locals refer to the whole network of tunnels as the Catacombs.
How exactly did the Catacombs of Paris come to be? Well, way back in the 18th century there was lots of health concerns due to overflowing cemeteries.
The solution to help relieve these cemeteries was to move their contents further underground. The former quarries that lay beneath Paris were the perfect place to house these bones.
The ossuary section that you can visit is 1.5km in length and takes about 45 minutes to walk through. You walk through one way only, so keep in mind your exit won’t be at the same point of entry!
At the entrance you descend 131 steps below street level. To return back up, there are only 112 steps to reach the exit point.
The ground is pretty uneven though so wearing comfortable and sensible footwear is a must. Sorry no heels, ladies! Also the light is pretty dim, extra care is needed when walking through. Particularly in the narrower passageways.
Only 200 visitors are allowed in the tunnel at one time. This can sometimes cause long waits especially in peak times. Try and keep this in mind when deciding on time of day, and or time of year of your visit.
I visited in winter and the wait time was not too long. I imagine like all other Paris attractions, that the wait would be much longer in the spring and summer months.
When I walked through these tunnels it was pretty haunting to know that these are all real human bones! The bones are arranged so artfully though, that in my opinion, it isn’t scary at all.
Unfortunately if you suffer from any of the following the Catacombs might not be the best place to visit –
- get nervous in the dark or enclosed spaces
- heart or breathing problems
- reduced mobility
All year round the tunnels are 14 degrees. Which compared to above ground, makes them cooler to visit in summer and warmer in the winter! Just be aware that it can get kind of stuffy down there as ventilation isn’t the best.
I found the Catacombs to be eerily beautiful and a really interesting place to visit. Was really cool to see something different and out of the ordinary. It’s not every day you get see an underground art gallery of human bones.
The Catacombs are closed every Monday and some holidays for more info and opening hours check out – http://catacombes.paris.fr/en
For another creepy skull post, check out our blog on the Sedlec Ossuary in Prague.